‘Hallowed be Thy name’
Another really straightforward line. And again, I find myself wondering exactly what it means.
Newer translations of the Lord’s prayer have something like ‘May your Holy name be honoured’, and that’s good.
Let’s start with what we know. Talking about someone’s ‘name’ isn’t simply a reference to the word. It’s a reference to the person – most of all to the reputation, to the standing of the person mentioned. And to pray that the name of God be hallowed is to pray that the character of God be ‘hallowed.’
Second thing we know. Hallowed. Acknowledge something to be holy. And that means two things: set apart (treated as special, reserved for special use), and treated as pure. A holy dish would be one that was a) clean and of best quality b) set apart for special use. So: the easy way of understanding this verse is to take it that we should treat the name of God as special, not to be used carelessly. Rowan Williams talks about the prayer like this.
“And to ask that God’s name be hallowed, that God’s name be looked upon as holy, is to ask that in the world people will understand the presence of God among them with awe and reverence, and will not use the name or the idea of God as a kind of weapon to put other people down, or as a sort of magic to make themselves feel safe. But rather approach the idea of God, the name of God, the word of God, with the veneration and humility that’s demanded.
In the Jewish texts of Jesus’ own day, the commandment about not taking God’s name in the vain, from the Ten Commandments, is often understood as uniting the name of God with a curse – using the name of God as a kind of magic word – and that’s to trivialise the name of God, it’s to bring it down to our level, to try and make God a tool for our purposes.
So “Hallowed be thy name” means: understand what you’re talking about when you’re talking about God, this is serious, this is the most wonderful and frightening reality that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening that we can imagine.”
No swearing, no cursing. And I’m sure that’s true. But it only scratches the surface.
Remember the 3rd commandment? ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord.’ That’s about dishonouring the name – and therefore the character – of God by using his name falsely. So for a merchant to do a deal with a customer using dishonest set of weights, and to say ‘That’s a better deal than you’ll get anywhere else, as God is my witness’ is dishonouring ‘the name’ of God. The commandment and the prayer have a lot in common.
There is a traditional Jewish prayer that had some of the same ideas, but with a different emphasis: “Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen” (the prayer is Kaddish, and you may find people who say ‘see how much Xty owes to the Jewish Rabbis – but the earliest example of Kaddish is 900AD! Kaddish picks up themes from Ezek 38:23 – “Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am the LORD.” What’s different is that the Ezekiel passage is something that God does. God himself causes the nations to honour his name. But Jesus doesn’t emphasise that; he makes the prayer much more ambiguous. Why? Because the way in which God’s name is hallowed is through us. Campbell Morgan says ‘If we are praying that way, then we must live that way; we must work that way.’
The other place that this word gets used a lot in the gospels is John 17 – the prayer of Jesus. He prays that you and I might be sanctified – made holy in truth. “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”
2 Timothy 2:21: “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”
Here’s something obvious: you can’t make God holier than he is. But, Jesus seems to be implying, the hallowing of the name of God is connected to the sanctification of the people of God.
So often Jesus challenges us by taking the OT one step further, and he does exactly that here. The commandment said ‘do nothing that dishonours the name of God.’ – don’t sully God’s reputation by the way you behave. A moment to come up with some examples.
But do you see what Jesus does with this prayer? He turns the negative prohibition into a positive prayer: may your name be hallowed, made holy. Who is going to do this? We are. Where the OT says ‘don’t mess it up’, Jesus says ‘show us how to make it shine!’ He turns the negative command into a positive request.
And when you make that personal, it gets scary. May I live in such a way as to make people think well of God. May we live and speak in such a way as to make people think well of God. 5 minutes to talk about that…
John Piper has some great examples of the way in which we can hallow the name of God. Here are three of them:
1. Numbers 20:12 – by trusting Him.
2. Isaiah 8:12-13 – by valuing his truth above all other voices.
3. Lev 22:31-32 – by doing what he says!
To hallow God is to trust him, to listen to him, and to obey him.